Cassandra Marx writes:
In the last few weeks, I have seen or heard numerous references to something being catty-cornered, katty-cornered, and kitty-cornered to something else. Would you please tell me what the correct usage/spelling is?
Although I have included this expression in a previous post on “cat words,” I think it deserves a post of its own.
Here’s what I had to say the first time around:
Catty-corner is a directional word, meaning that something is diagonally across from something else.
The word started out as cater-corner. Cater is an English dialect word meaning “to set or move diagonally.”
When the word cater with its meaning of “to set or move diagonally” dropped out of the language, folk etymology got busy and now we have all kinds of “cat” variants for this concept:
This time I have my brand-new copy of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable (17th edtion) to consult. This is what I find under the entry cater-cornered:
Cater-cornered. Placed diagonally, as of a badly parked car in a parking space. “Cater” is an old word for the four dots on dice, which form diagonals, from French quatre, four. Other spellings of the term are ‘catty-cornered’ and ‘kitty-cornered’, as if somehow to do with cats.
Apparently the dialect word with the meaning “to set or move diagonally,” derived from quatre.
As for the “correct usage/spelling,” the usage seems to be universal as to meaning. Something that is “catty-cornered” to something else is diagonally opposite.
Until some authority decrees otherwise, I suppose that spelling and pronunciation are a matter of local usage. I grew up with kitty-corner.